WARMINGTON: Even firefighters off with PTSD face unpaid leave and firing without jabs

To punish vulnerable people suffering through mental health issues seems extreme

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The City of Toronto has told off-work firefighters with post-traumatic stress or other on-the-job injuries that until they are vaccinated, they are cut off from their worker’s compensation insurance payments. the Toronto Sun has learned.

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The tough measures are outlined in a Nov. 1 letter signed by Deputy Fire Chief Debbie Higgins, who warns staff that “City of Toronto employees are required to be fully vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine series by Oct. 30.”

It’s publicly known that dozens of firefighters and city workers in other departments are currently suspended without pay for not complying with this edict and face termination next month. But what was not understood is this rule also applies to some who are off sick and are having 85% of their pay covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), with the city kicking in the remaining 15%.

Some dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues say these are already difficult problems, which are now compounded by receiving a pay stub with zeroes.

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“Please note that you are not in compliance with the policy, As such, advances and top-payments for your WSIB claim have been discontinued as of Nov. 1. We have notified the WSIB of this change,” said Higgins’ letter.

For several firefighters, this was a “punch in the gut” they did not need.

“I went off on PTSD prior to the mandate,” said one. “I have been informed by the WSIB that the city contacted them to tell them they will not be paying me … This despite being diagnosed by a WSIB psychologist.”

Another firefighter said he’s been struggling ever since he wasn’t able to revive a patient.

“I wake up in a sweat every night,” said the firefighter.  

This is when they are in need of compassion. Not cancellation. Firefighters who received this ultimatum to get vaccinated or not be able to feed their families say they were stunned by the correspondence on City of Toronto letterhead that has Acting Fire Chief and General Manager Jim Jessop’s name at the top and is CC’d to Payroll, Human Resources Consultant (Disability Management) at the bottom.

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To punish vulnerable people suffering through mental health issues seems extreme, but city spokesperson Brad Ross explained the main goal is to get every city worker up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Some employees have had their benefits impacted as a result of not complying with the city’s vaccination policy by the deadline established when the policy was announced,” Ross said. “We will address these situations on a case by case basis. In the end, our focus is on getting 100% of employees vaccinated.”

The city or union is not saying how many firefighters fall into the category of being suspended while on WSIB or sick leave waiting for a doctor’s consultation.

“Any questions related to the number of employees affected should be directed to the employer,” said Kevin McCarthy, Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association president, who added, “I cannot comment on any ongoing grievances or WSIB claims.”

Added McCarthy: “We are working with the City of Toronto and Toronto Fire Services to take every precaution necessary to protect all of our workers and the citizens of Toronto.”

What they all should be working on is ending immediately this wicked practice of punishing people who are on worker’s compensation as a result of trauma emanating from their life-and-death jobs.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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